Hyoe Murayama (Jesuit Scholastic)
This year, too, there have been a number of anti-foreign racist “hate speech” demonstrations in Shin-Okubo (Tokyo) and Tsuruhashi (Osaka). However, though these have been taken up in the news and the national Diet, causing a crisis consciousness, the main point at issue is beginning to cloud over. What are we losing sight of in the face of such hate speech? We must never forget to protect the human dignity of everyone and to believe in the possibility of dialogue for forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Hate speech,” meaning words and actions which stir up discrimination because of race or gender, is punishable in Germany as a “crime of demagogy,” a lesson learned from reflection on the Nazi era. However, in Japan hate speech is not punished as libelous because of the difficulty in identifying individual targets, so no legal action is taken. But if you ever happen to witness such racist hostility actually taking place, you immediately realize the frightfulness of even a small-scale demonstration by a few hundred people. The main claim of such anti-foreign demonstrators is dissatisfaction with the special permanent resident status and livelihood protection of Koreans in Japan. Although Koreans in Japan have borne the weight of Japan’s occupation-and-assimilation policy, the demonstrators categorize their complex diverse backgrounds simply as “Zainichi Privileges,” and carry on openly discriminatory conduct in the name of democracy and freedom of expression. These demonstrators are said to belong to a group of “right wing cyber-nuts,” enthusiastic but anonymous activists on the Internet. However, shouting to Zainichi Koreans “Go home!” and “Kill off any Koreans!” goes beyond harassment. It is nothing less than persecution.
The problem is expanding also at the political level. The territorial issue of Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands along with historical awareness of the “comfort women” have served as excuses to foster conflicts in the name of the national interest and patriotism. The media arouse further tension. Political strife and national interests are cited as issues, yet genuine peace and reconciliation among human beings and the tears and cries of those who were erased from the list of winners are disregarded. The consciousness of crisis is clouded over, but the danger increases. As things stand at present, the government of Japan is resultingly tolerating discriminatory conduct. In addition, enormous influence is also extending to young people trapped in the rift between an education toward respecting human rights and a consumer society in which only people with social clout have the right to be heard.
Side by side with anti-foreign demonstrations, protests against these are also spreading. We must voice an emphatic NO to all discriminatory conduct. Nevertheless, while shouts of “Kill them!” and “Go home!” blare out from loudspeakers of the leading racist group “Zaitokukai,” some people of good will claiming to be anti-racist also shout out loudly: “Die yourselves!” Discriminatory harassment should not be countered with the same sort of harassment. I think we can only use a counter slogan like “Let’s be friends!” when we can sincerely feel and suffer with victims of discrimination.
Hate speech demonstrations currently seem to be in a temporary lull. This is because there have been arrests of violent activists on both sides, thus creating some politicians’ appeal for self-restraint and legal control. However, can legal control get to the root of the problem? All legal control and court systems were devised as means to resolve conflicts and have functioned with repeated adaptations and modifications learned from the wisdom of history. Zaitokukai’s claim, “What’s wrong with holding protests not forbidden by law?” lacks fundamental value standards.
What has been lost sight of in this hate speech issue? It is human suffering and weeping. It is the dignity of human beings concealed in the shadow of national pride and patriotism. It is the concern to acknowledge that everyone is entitled to live together simply because they are human, to reject totalitarianism and ethnic cleansing, and to persevere in pushing for the possibility of mutual understanding and reconciliation through dialogue. Any manifestation of violence, even if used for social sanctions, destroys this human dignity. In order, therefore, to protect our own humanity and the dignity of others, and to pass on fundamental human values to future generations, we must continue to stretch out hands of “reconciliation and forgiveness” when confronted with discriminatory hate speech. Dehumanization through speech is no longer freedom, expression, or democracy. It is hatred that must be eradicated.
How do Christians deal with this problem? Messages of forgiveness and reconciliation continue to originate from the Catholic Church, and church leaders in areas of continual conflict are calling for prayer and action to seek reconciliation. Concerning the hate speech issue in Japan, many calls have come for dialogue and prayer from churches in other countries. Pope Francis established a “day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and the whole world” on September 7 this year, and invited the whole Church and all people of good will to take part. This made it clear that the road to peace is not through judgment from God or holy war. The very sign of God’s call is that people believe and respond to it. To work toward dialogue for reconciliation in a world of unceasing conflicts is the only way to eradicate hatred and save human dignity!